Microsoft Corp. launched on Tuesday a new version of its Windows Live Local online mapping service with real-time traffic reports and features to make it easier to share maps and information.
The company also plans to expand its mapping service with the release of a test version in the U.K. and a limited offering in Canada. It pledged to add new markets in the coming months.
This latest version of its mapping site is part of Microsoft's pursuit of Google and Yahoo in the $15 billion online advertising market by offering more appealing Web services to attract advertisers and lure more traffic to its search engine.
Microsoft sees mapping and its position in the market as one where it can break out and gain some competitive advantage, said Greg Sterling, industry analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence.
Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft said Windows Live Local will provide real-time traffic flow and incident reports to allow users to plan for delays when mapping out a route.
The company also incorporated features to help users create lists of favorite locations within a map and share them over e-mail or post them on a blog site. It also lets groups share maps and information within an Instant Messenger window.
Web mapping services allow small businesses, many of which have never bought online ads, to target customers efficiently. The market leader is AOL's MapQuest, followed by Yahoo, Google and Microsoft, according to research reports.
Mapping is just one of many Internet services serving as a battleground for Microsoft, Yahoo and Google.
It's sort of a relentless competitive situation. The competition among them in search is mirrored in all these subsidiary or secondary areas, with mapping being one of them, said Sterling.
Microsoft also said it released a Windows Live Local add-in for its Office Outlook e-mail and scheduling software.
The free download allows users to find and print maps and directions within Outlook and would allow them to automatically schedule driving time into the calendar and send links with mapping information about meeting locations to other people within Outlook calendar requests.